Gramophone Awards Shortlist 2016
one marked down as a compulsory purchase and likely Awards contender.
There are several paradoxes at the heart of Frang’s captivating performance style. Playing with almost intimidating dexterity and polish, not to mention impeccable intonation (it comes as no surprise to discover that Anne-Sophie Mutter was an early mentor), her music-making still manages to project an impression of honesty and naturalness. An exciting player, she prefers taking chances to playing it safe, in spite of which her interpretations feel airily unforced rather than ostentatious. It’s quite a feat and one reliant on supportive collaborators able to unfold a (sometimes unpredictable) musical narrative with comparable ease. Fortunately James Gaffigan, whose international career was launched in Frankfurt at the 2004 Sir Georg Solti International Conducting Competition, is with her every step of the way, as is the Frankfurt Radio Symphony Orchestra.
First up is Korngold’s escapist confection, and it receives a notably unsentimental reading. This is not to imply that the superarticulate music-making is either cool or predictable. The first-movement cadenza is assaulted with sudden anger, the slow movement played with a clean directness that sounds utterly fresh, at least until a riskily self-conscious inflection just before the end. In the emptier pyrotechnics of the finale Frang comes close to trumping Shaham, if not Heifetz. Her pure, sweet timbre is leaner but she is much assisted by sensitive conducting and the kind of sound engineering that exposes unexpected strands in the orchestral texture rather than unduly spotlighting the star. I found this a deeply satisfying take on a vehicle intended to slake Heifetz’s insatiable thirst for technical display rather than to extend Korngold’s compositional range. That said, you may feel that the swashbuckling needs a little more schmaltz to make it palatable.
From Korngold’s Romantic patchwork to Britten’s high seriousness (and his obsessive working of scalic material) is quite a leap, yet, with these exponents, there’s no hint of the latter overreaching himself in this extended, bleakly eloquent take on the Prokofiev violin concerto model. Indeed, the argument is projected with such searing intensity that the work asserts its claim to be considered one of the masterpieces of the last century. Once again Frang proves immaculate above the stave; and, because the third-movement passacaglia never gets bogged down in the manner of Vengerov and Rostropovich or Little and Gardner, the sense of looming threat is ever present through to the equivocal close.
While Marwood and Volkov make the whole concerto feel more contemporary, brisker from the outset, texturally spikier and more fractured than Lubotsky with Britten himself as conductor, there are other aesthetic possibilities. Whatever the work’s pockets of English reserve, Frang refuses to undersell those passionate outbursts fuelled by the composer’s political and moral convictions during and after the Spanish Civil War. This is a remarkable rendition, at once spacious and tautly held together, cool where it needs to be but eminently emotive with just the right kind of ‘perilous sweetness’. The soloist’s tone is never remotely wiry or frayed and the harmonics are simply sensational.
Here then are two ardent performances to complement or even supplant existing favourites. Such technical inviolability and emotional truth is born of long familiarity. In 2013 Frang and Gaffigan took the Britten as far afield as Sydney and, as YouTube aficionados will know, the Korngold is an old friend too. That the works’ American connections are ably explored in Mervyn Cooke’s booklet-note is the icing on the cake. David Gutman Korngold – selected comparisons: Heifetz, Los Angeles PO, Wallenstein
(12/55R) (NAXO) 8 111359 Shaham, LSO, Previn (9/94) (DG) 439 886-2GH Mutter, LSO, Previn (12/04) (DG) 474 5152GH Britten – selected comparisons: Lubotsky, ECO, Britten (8/71R, 10/89) (LOND) 417 3082LM Vengerov, LSO, Rostropovich (7/03R) (EMI) 984435-2 Marwood, BBC Scottish SO, Volkov
(3/12) (HYPE) CDA67801 Little, BBC Philh, Gardner (7/13) (CHAN) CHAN10764
Dvořák . Suk Dvořák Violin Concerto, Op 53 B96. Romance, Op 11 B39 Suk Fantasy, Op 24 Christian Tetzlaff vn Helsinki Philharmonic Orchestra / John Storgårds Ondine F Í ODE1279-5 (66’ • DDD)
It was an inspired idea to open this disc with Josef Suk’s wonderful Fantasy, a sort of freeform violin concerto: such a striking initial tutti, fiercely dramatic, setting the mood for a searing 23‑minute stretch, with some pastoral interludes to ease the intensity. John Storgårds inspires energetic playing from the Helsinki Philharmonic, accelerating subtly prior to Christian Tetzlaff’s first entry, though the strings don’t quite match Karel An∂erl’s cut-glass Czech Philharmonic (on Josef Suk’s first
Supraphon recording) for precision, edge or bite. Once into the fray Tetzlaff draws on an exceptionally wide range of colours and nuances, from fragility to full-on passion, especially after the resumed tutti has allowed him more time to breathe. He’s very much his own man, personal and personable, plying a varied roster of dynamics and flexibly backed by the orchestra. You sense that every bar has been carefully thought through and yet there’s never as much as a suggestion of calculation.
Come the variations that set in from 5’28”, the sweetness of his approach, and his willingness to follow the orchestra on dancing feet (6’55”), leaves a charming impression. From a purely violinistic point of view I’d choose Tetzlaff even above Suk: he brings so many rich ingredients to the piece and I’ve already enjoyed listening to his version many times.
In the case of the Violin Concerto and Romance by Suk’s father-in-law Dvo∑ák, competition weighs rather more heavily. In the Concerto Isabelle Faust (with the Prague Philharmonia under Ji∑í B∆lohlávek) is a prominent presence, her style following in the wake of Suk’s two recordings (Supraphon), some of her slides seemingly influenced by his. Tetzlaff on the other hand largely avoids portamento, though that’s not to suggest that his playing lacks either warmth or authentic flavouring. Quite the contrary; and, as with the Fantasy, there’s a winning suppleness about the playing, the sense that rather than being chained to the bar-lines he’s able to stretch across them, always the sign of a great artist. I also like the way he underlines the chordal writing at 7’23” into the first movement. The slow movement has tenderness to spare, the finale delicacy as well as panache.
And there’s the lovely Romance for violin and orchestra that in an earlier incarnation was part of a larger structure, Dvo∑ák’s little-known String Quartet in F minor, Op 9 (B37). But nowadays it’s this meltingly beautiful movement that we hear most often, a piece that was premiered some time in the late 1870s and dedicated to ‘my dear friend’ Franti≈ek Ond∑í∂ek, who subsequently did so much to promote the Violin Concerto. With Suk’s seductive earlier recording ringing in our ears even after many decades, any newcomer has to deliver with expressive generosity, which Tetzlaff does, his approach, as in the other works included here, individual but utterly persuasive. Excellent, full-bodied sound. A disc to prize. Rob Cowan Selected comparison – coupled as above: Suk, Czech PO, Neumann (8/11) (SUPR) SU4047-2 Dvo∑ák Violin Concerto, Suk Fantasy – selected comparison: Suk, Czech PO, An∂erl (8/03) (SUPR) SU3668-2
GRAMOPHONE AWards 2016 19